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The Age of Polarization

President Obama came into office promising a new age of cooperation and an end to partisan division. That promise has been an absolute and complete failure.

According to Gallup Obama has been a historically polarizing figure in his three years in office, with a massive gap between his support from Republican and Democrats. By a wide margin Obama first term has been the most polarizing of any modern president and George W. Bush is the only other president to at times have been more polarizing than Obama currently is.  From Gallup:

Largest Gaps in Presidential Approval Ratings by Party, All Presidential Years Since 1953

While the health care bill Obama decided to advocate for and the decision of Senate Republicans to adopt a political strategy of total opposition probably played a part in increasing the polarizing of opinions about Obama, a high degree of polarization was most likely unavoidable.

Regardless who Obama was or what he did, he would likely have ended up a polarizing figure. What we are seeing is the result of our political parties steadily becoming more ideologically unified and coherent in the past few decades. This is something we are seeing both in Congress and in opinions about the President. It is not surprising 8 of the 10 most polarizing years for opinions about the president on record all happened in the last ten years.

It will be interesting to see if Obama’s absolute failure to bring the parties together, because they are apart for a reason, will cause future politicians to stop even trying to make this absurd promise.

At some point as a country we are going to need to accept that fact that the unusual combination of regional history and race issues that previously produced an era when members of Congress technically from different parties would actually hold nearly identical policy views is over. It is not coming back.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at

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